Chapter 13 – Practice Makes Awkward

Staring out the window, Stevie can feel the chill emanating from the glass. The unseasonable warmth has faded away over the past two weeks. Just in time for Halloween. The seasonal decorations remind Stevie of Quinn. She can’t see the costumed children running on the other side of the hedge, but she can hear them, squealing with delight.

Playing with a tiny rubber bat hanging in the window, Stevie looks vacantly out onto the yard. The details of the wing feel almost like Braille beneath her fingertips. Each raised segment traceable. Tangible. Real. Unlike the rest of her life, which feels completely foreign. Nothing is as extreme as she expected, everything is simply different.

She hasn’t seen Quinn since the night of the party. They’ve texted. Brushed fingers in empty hallways. Meaningful glances across the movie theatre lobby or while placing orders in the deli. But they haven’t been able to be together. For the first few days, the scrutiny surrounding Stevie had been too intense. People were watching. Key word – were.

After two weeks with nothing scandalous, Stevie’s classmates have stopped looking for the girl attached to her announcement. Even Kevin, who knows for sure that there was someone, has stopped tracking Stevie’s movements. She longs for Quinn’s touch. The strong hands. The cold jewelry. Her soft skin, lips, hair. She inhales deeply, imagining the minty scent of Quinn’s shampoo.

The clock on the wall chimes the quarter hour, prompting Stevie to get moving. She jams her arms into the sleeves of her grandfather’s old army jacket and smiles at herself in the mirror. The World War II pilot’s jacket fits her snuggly; her grandfather had been a small man. The girl in the mirror looks confident. Pulled together. Unconcerned with what other people think. Nodding at her image, she grabs her gym bag and heads through the door to the garage. Soon, she’s pulling out into the late afternoon sun, heat pulsing from the vents, music pumping from the speakers.

At the school, she walks to the first bank of lockers, stopping at the second one from the left. Changing lockers is the one concession she’s made at school. Not giving in to Chelsea, although that’s how people see it, but instead removing herself from unneeded stress of Chelsea and Brianne.

No one could have predicted how that pairing would turn out. Stevie had known them both for years. She’d been friends with them both through junior and senior high. Brianne had always been the one to do Chelsea’s dirty work –the blonde would never get her own hands dirty – but never to this extent. Stevie has never understood their need to treat people so poorly. Chelsea’s inexplicable need for people to fit into exact boxes. Both girls come from wealthy families who give them whatever they want. They should have been happy.

Without Stevie as a buffer, Brianne was delighting in her new role, maliciously torturing people who don’t fit into their world view. Pouring sticky pop into backpacks and lockers. Tripping people with armloads of books. Incessantly teasing the shyest girls in class. Cutting the waist length ponytail from the head of a girl in the library. Three girls brought to hysterical tears within the last week. Teachers, unable to do anything, do nothing instead.

Opening her locker, Stevie pulls out the piece of paper predictably lying on top of her stuff. It spews the same homophobic garbage as the notes she’s found at least once a day since she came out. They’re never signed, but she knows Brianne’s writing. This one cleverly warns her that if she isn’t careful, she’ll end up on the wrong end of a fist. Rolling her eyes, Stevie tucks it into the stack at the bottom and throws her jacket and purse on top of the rest of her stuff.

Shouldering her gym bag, she heads to the locker room to change for cheer practice. This used to be her favourite part of the week. Now it’s something else entirely. She always gets there early so she never has to share a change room with Chelsea. As she sits down on the bench, Stevie remembers her first practice after the big fight.

Chelsea had been relentless. The other girls reluctant. No one wanted to have Stevie lift them. They didn’t want to touch her. At least, that’s what Chelsea claimed, but Stevie suspected they’d been warned to stay away from her. Chelsea had raised a fuss, saying that Stevie was off the team. As captain, she was allowed to make whatever choices she wanted regarding team members. About what was best for the entire team. And what was best for them was not to have ‘Stevie’s big gay grabby lezbo hands all over a bunch of clean, innocent girls’. Stevie had refused to leave. The standoff between the two girls had lasted until one of the others had gone to get the principal.

“Please sit down, girls.” Principal McNally settles behind her desk. Each girl takes a seat in one of the chairs positioned in front of the desk, just close enough to be uncomfortable. Matching chairs. Matching uniforms. Matching posture. Matching expressions of hatred. The middle-aged woman behind the desk brings her teacup to her lips. “What seems to be the problem?”

“I want her off my team!” Chelsea demands.

“She wants to kick me off the team.” Stevie explodes at the same moment. The two girls continue to talk over one another, voices getting progressively louder as they try to drown out the other person.

“Enough.” The principal’s hand flies into the air, silencing them both. “Chelsea, you first.”

Chelsea smirks at Stevie, “I want her off the team. She makes everyone uncomfortable.”

“Stevie?”

“Right now, the only person I know wants me off the team is Chelsea. No one else has voiced an opinion. Not that they would. Disagree and they’ll get kicked off the team, too. Probably with a couple new labels attached to them.” She mutters the last sentiment.

“They agree with me! No one wants you to touch them.”

“I don’t think anyone else cares. Why would they?”

“Why?” Chelsea’s eyebrows rise to comical levels.

“Yes, why?”

“Cause you’re totally going to grope them. Let your hands slip. Touch things you shouldn’t. You’ve probably loved watching us in the shower. God! I can’t even think about it anymore. It is so gross. You’re disgusting.”

“Chelsea? What are you talking about?” Principal McNally leans across her desk.

“She’s a big gay lesbo.”

“Oh my God! Why do you always say gay lesbian? Lesbian implies gay. It’s redundant.” Stevie spews in frustration. She doesn’t miss the smile the principal tries to hide behind her tea cup.

“Whatever. Gay. Lesbian. Big gay lesbian. Either way it means the same thing. She’s a pervert.”

“I am not a pervert!” Throwing herself out of her chair, Stevie knocks over the heavy wooden furniture. Her composure slipping away, she stalks to the window, trying to control herself.

“Of course you are. You’re gay! Homos are all perverts!” Chelsea’s voice drips with disgust. Her eyes fill with hatred. “Everyone knows that.”

“Chelsea!” Principal McNally interjects.

“You homophobic bitch! I can’t believe you were ever my friend.” Stevie throws herself across the room. Knocking Chelsea out of her chair. Straddling her as she grabs handfuls of long blonde hair. Chelsea’s hand wriggles free. She swipes forward, nails catching skin. Three parallel lines of pain spread across Stevie’s cheek. She pulls her fist back for a heavy blow but the movement is stopped by a strong hand catching her wrist.

“Stevie. Stop.” The strong, calm voice fills the office. The two girls freeze mid motion, Stevie’s arm at an uncomfortable angle, Chelsea’s hands reaching for a handful of red hair.

“See? She’s unpredictable.” Chelsea spits, pulling herself from beneath Stevie.

“Unpredictable?” Stevie lurches forward but stops herself. “You say those things to me and you expected what? A thank you note? An apology?”

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. I’m the captain, she’s not. I have final say. Says so in the team rule book. She’s off the team.” Chelsea’s fists take their familiar perch on her cocked hips

“That is not entirely true, Chelsea.” Both girls’ heads swivel to look at their principal, who is once again sitting calmly behind her desk.

“Pardon?” Chelsea’s expression folds into the ass-kissing smile she uses to manipulate adults.

“Sit.” While the chairs are righted, she searches her computer for a file. The two girls sit, nursing their new wounds. Stevie’s fingers gently touch at the raised portions of her cheek. Chelsea gingerly explores the back of her head where it banged into the floor. “As I was saying, Chelsea, you are the captain, but in the case of unresolved disputes, the decision is made either through a team vote or by me.” She turns her monitor so they can see the screen. The school charter is on the screen. She points a finger to the section on dispute resolution within social clubs.

“Well, Principal McNally,” Chelsea’s grin appears permanently etched into her face, “you’re not needed this time. The team will definitely vote to have Stevie removed. As I said, no one wants to work with a…”

“Do not attempt to use that line of reasoning again.” The principal leans forward, expression stern, fingers clasped in front of her. “I will not listen to ignorance and hatred. Stevie will remain on the team.” She raises her finger as Chelsea begins to protest. “This is not up for debate. You will both remain on the team and continue to cheer on our athletes with the same spirit and enthusiasm you always have.”

Both girls sit in stunned silence, neither has expected the conversation to go this way.

“What if I want to quit?” Chelsea breaks the silence, her voice low, uncertain.

“Not an option. At least not right now.”

“Can you do that?” Stevie asks.

“Don’t you want to be on the team, Stevie? Isn’t that why we’re having this meeting?” Principal McNally replies.

“Of course I do, but if Chelsea wants to quit…”

“My decision is final.” She stands, indicating that the meeting is over. “And girls, you will work together without disrupting the team. This cheerleading issue is between the two of you and the two of you alone. Do not allow your argument to impact the team. And Chelsea, if I hear you or anyone else referring to Stevie the way you did today, the consequences will be much worse than just your place on the squad.” She holds the door open for them, meeting over.

Now, Stevie remembers walking out of the room feeling both smug and uncertain. Surprisingly, the practices since the meeting have gone off without a hitch. Chelsea’s still trying to freeze her out, absolutely refusing to speak directly to her, but nothing more. Stevie knows that their stalemate can only last for so long, so she tries to stay out of Chelsea’s way as much as possible. She hurries to change into her practice clothes and heads to the gym.

Two hours later, she sits on the edge of the stage, feet dangling, shoes thumping against the wall while she waits for Chelsea to finish changing. Brianne, never far from Chelsea’s side, stands against the far wall, waiting. She glares in Stevie’s direction, but says nothing. Stevie returns her look with a raised eyebrow. Brianne moves to take a step towards Stevie, expression full of malice, but stops and leans back against the wall, staring at the red head with unbridled hate.

A few of her teammates mill around on the floor below Stevie, talking excitedly. Even though it’s the middle of the week, everyone has Halloween plans for the evening.

“Hey Stevie,” Charla taps the bottoms of Stevie’s swinging feet. “You coming to Paul’s tonight?”

“Paul’s?” Stevie shrugs. “I’ve been out of the loop lately.”

“Halloween party. Everyone who’s anyone will be there!”

“I don’t think I count as anyone anymore.” Stevie swings her feet, embarrassed. “And I don’t have a costume.”

Charla laughs. “You’re a hot girl, just wear something slutty.”

“I don’t know if I’d be welcome.”

“Her?” Charla tosses her head in Brianne’s direction. “Screw her. Come as my guest. Show those bitches you’re not afraid to stand up for yourself. And that you’ve got other people on your side.” Stevie’s heart warms as she realizes Charla is being genuine.

“I’ll think about it.” She smiles, knowing she has one other thing she has to do this evening before she even considers a party.

“Call me if you decide to come. We’ll meet out front so you don’t have to walk into the lion’s den alone.” Charla waves and heads out of the gym. Stevie follows almost immediately, not wanting to be stuck alone with Brianne, seriously thinking about going to the party.

Chapter 14

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